Racing Amendment Bill

Ms BATH (Eastern Victoria) (17:11): I am most pleased to rise this afternoon and speak on this bill. The Nationals, like my colleagues the Liberals, will not be opposing the Racing Amendment Bill 2021. It really in many ways tidies up some of the anomalies that the government in bringing forward a previous bill left in a slight state of mess, and so this is really an omnibus bill of tidying up those anomalies and certainly introducing one major point, which is the ability to conduct races on Good Friday.

Now, we know in the country that country folk like to get out—they like to enjoy the great outdoors. They often like a punt. Some, if they are like me, are novices and often choose in terms of colour schemes or names or a tip from somebody’s sister’s aunty. We really enjoy a great day out. Indeed not far from me is the Stony ponies, the Stony Creek Racing Club, and I have been there on a number of occasions for a really good day out. Now, one of the things that all of those country race clubs do—and there are a number across the state as well as in my electorate—is they put money back into the community. Local volunteers, whether they be a community group or a sporting club, will often run the car parking, do the barbecue, do some staffing and security, and that fundraising that they make will often go back into their sporting club or community. Indeed the Stony Creek races certainly do that well, working with their community.

The other thing that racing does is it generates $4.3 billion for the Victorian economy. Now, I would always say gamble responsibly, as the ads do. There are those in extreme cases who unfortunately have addictive behaviours, and they need to be tended to and supported away from those addictive behaviours, but most people enjoy a casual punt and do gamble responsibly. $4.3 billion is a lot of money. It is an important industry earning money for over 33 000 full-time employees. Over 120 000 people are employed or volunteer either directly or indirectly, and I have mentioned some of those.

Back in November last year I attended the Latrobe Valley Racing Club and attended the Traralgon Cup, and it was a great day. In the past sometimes the cup has not been held for various reasons, often weather, and we know that can be the case. In Gippsland we can get rain and we can certainly get wind. But Frank Bezzina, who is the chairman out there, did an amazing job with his committee. Again, the theme was supporting locals, so local businesses. Cafe Aura catered and did an amazing job. The local Churchill Lions group actually provided all of the security and staff for the event and, again, that went back into the Churchill Lions support network and the work that they do. These sorts of things are really important and can generate also newspaper articles and advertising. There is that localised economy that is generated through country racing.

The key factor in this bill is the ability to race on Good Friday. We know that other states operate in that mode, so this is in effect normalising or modernising that. My colleague the Honourable Tim Bull in the other place loves a punt. He certainly owns one or two horses or shares a hoof or a nose in many of his great horses, and he is also the Shadow Minister for Veterans Affairs. When we think about honouring and respecting traditions and respecting cultures, and in this case respecting Christians who wish to observe Good Friday, the same has happened in terms of the Anzac Day matches. The football matches do not start until 1 o’clock in the afternoon, and I know that Tim has worked really hard with the government to ensure that they make a commitment that the races will not start until 1 o’clock.

I communicated with Brad Evans from Sale Turf Club. The Sale Turf Club will be the inaugural race day host down in Sale, which is a fantastic town with great people and a really great racing club. I have had dinner there on many occasions. Also they are a really good venue for hosting various functions as well. Brad has made a commitment that he will not start until 1 o’clock. And his other commitment—and this is a long-held tradition that they do anyway—is supporting a very worthwhile charity. They will be supporting the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal, and they have a long tradition of giving, as I have said.

The other thing is they are working with Tourism Victoria. We know that Gippsland is an awesome place not only to live, like I do, but to come and visit and to come and experience the green, beautiful rolling hills and our wonderful, wonderful coastlines. This is a real incentive for people to come down and experience a Good Friday race day. But also Brad has told me there is parking for your caravan or trailer or the like, so you can then keep going on and either come down to South Gippsland or continue on to the marvellous East Gippsland. As a former speaker, Mr Gepp, talked about, in recovering from our fires that we had that so devastated and locked down our regional tourism sector and burdened people with recovery, we need that investment and that positivity, and this is one small but significant way to do that. And finally on that point, we know that also other race days will be held on rotation throughout Victoria, which is also good, to share that experience around and share that economy around.

In relation to other aspects of the bill, the bill provides the ability to appoint an acting racing integrity commissioner rather than just having the one commissioner. We know that people get sick. Certainly in this COVID environment we know they need to go on holidays. That then confers the ability to have an acting commissioner—an important point. The bill allows for the creation of an administrator of a harness racing club. The act currently provides the minister with the power to suspend a committee and appoint an administrator of a harness racing club on the recommendation of the board of Harness Racing Victoria. This amendment clarifies the matter and removes the minister from this process, so it modernises racing integrity.



The bill also looks to amend the Office of the Racing Integrity Commissioner so that the authority can disclose integrity-related information to the Victorian Racing Integrity Board, again seeking to modernise the racing industry. The bill also provides protection regarding the liability of VRIB members. There is no requirement in the act at the moment, so this then provides that protection for board members—again this is most important.

With those few words, I would like to say that The Nationals certainly do not oppose this bill. I am very pleased to say that Sale will be the host recipient of the inaugural race day. To all of those people involved in the industry, I wish you well. It is a very important industry not only for the economic growth that it creates but also for the people and the interest that horseracing creates.

Many, many people take it very seriously, and take the role, health and wellbeing of their horses as very important. I have spoken to jockeys and trainers only recently. Indeed, I know when I was teaching at Mirboo North Secondary College that a young maths student of mine would get up at about 4 o’clock in the morning to go to the racetrack to do her track work and then fall asleep in my maths class. Now, it may have been my teaching, but it also may have been her very early starts.

With that, I wish this bill a speedy passage, noting that The Nationals will not be supporting the Greens amendment.